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Click the headings below to find out more about the projects we have been able to fund in 2022, thanks to community donations and support.

The Cancer Council WA Research Excellence Awards were established in 2013 to recognise and celebrate the achievements of Western Australia’s best and brightest cancer researchers. They also serve to reinforce the importance of cancer research as an aspirational career choice and provide encouragement for the next generation of leading cancer researchers.

Award: Cancer Council WA Early Career Cancer Researcher of the Year
Recipient: TBA
Description:
Funding from Cancer Council WA: $10,000
Fully supported: In the name of Blueprint Wealth

 

Award: Cancer Council WA Cancer Researcher of the Year
Recipient: TBA
Description:
Funding from Cancer Council WA: $20,000
Supported: In the name of Friends of Cancer Council WA

 

Award: Cancer Council WA Career Achievement Award
Recipient: TBA
Description:
Funding from Cancer Council WA: $20,000
Supported: In the name of the Mavis Sands Bequest

 

Our Research Project Grants aim to provide one to two years of support to help local, world-class cancer researchers further their research. Grants are initially short-listed through the national expert review process of the National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC), and are then further assessed by the Cancer Council WA Research Grants Advisory Committee.

Grant applications are assessed on the basis of quality, practicality, value for money and contribution to the advancement of cancer knowledge.

See below for the 2022 Cancer Council WA Research Project Grants.

Project title: Identification and treatment of a new deadly subtype of breast cancer
Lead researcher: A/Prof Pilar Blancafort
Institution: Telethon Kids Institute
Project description: Breast cancer (BC) is the most frequent cancer in women. While most BCs expresshormonal receptors (HRs) and have excellent responses to anti-estrogens (anti-E2s), asubset of HR positive (HR+) BCs are more aggressive, making them treatment resistant andlikely to return. Currently, there are no tests to distinguish these high-risk HR+ BCs fromthose that will respond to anti-E2s. We propose that these patients can be identified bydetection of a new cancer-driving gene (Adipogenesis Associated Mth938 DomainContaining, AAMDC), found at very high-levels in these BCs. We discovered that theAAMDC protein made by the gene is a new actor that drives BC by turning on a growthsignal called the mTOR pathway. We will develop a test to diagnose these patients bymeasuring the levels of AAMDC, and then test anti-AAMDC drugs (such as mTOR-blockers)in combination with anti-E2s. This work will produce tests and therapies ready to use inclinical trials to better treat these aggressive tumours.
Funding from Cancer Council WA: $99,974
Fully supported: In the name of Cancer Council NSW

 

Project title: Increasing survival in breast cancer patients by overcoming resistance to chemotherapy.
Lead researcher: Dr Pieter Eichhorn
Institution: Telethon Kids Institute
Project description: To ensure that signals from outside the cell lead to into appropriate cellular responses, the signalling inside the cells is highly regulated. Inside the cell, a group of molecules that communicate with each other to control these responses is called a signalling pathway. The PI3K group of molecules are the most active in breast cancer (BC). Approved chemotherapy drugs targeting the PI3K pathway demonstrate that patients having alterations in the PI3K molecules show decreases in tumour growth. However, the number of patients who improve on these drugs is low because somehow the pathway is getting reactivated even when chemotherapy is given.
This proposal seeks to understand why in some patients the pathway remains on and to identify patients beforehand who are most likely to benefit from these drugs. We are also designing new chemotherapy drugs that may be used in combination with those that target the PI3K pathway to see if we can increase the number of patients surviving this disease.
Funding from Cancer Council WA: $99,994
Fully supported: In the name of Jill Tilly

 

Project title: Supercharging natural killer cells to eliminate leukaemia
Lead researcher: Dr Bree Foley
Institution: The University of Western Australia
Project description: Whilst overall survival rates have vastly improved for acute lymphoblastic leukaemia, some subtypes and patient groups still have poor outcomes with less than a 50% chance of survival. Harnessing an individual’s immune system to fight cancer has been successful for some, however not all patients are healthy enough to have their own cells harvested. This means there is a great need for an alternative approach.
Our solution is to use the cancer killing immune cell, the natural killer (NK) cell, with the benefit being that they can be collected from healthy donors and prepared long before required. We have identified that some NK cells are superior at eliminating leukaemia and have utilised genetic technology to understand why they perform better. Using this information we will further enhance and refine the cancer killing capabilities of these cells. Our goal is to be able to create a scalable ‘off the shelf’ immunotherapy to ensure all patients can receive this life-saving treatment.
Funding from Cancer Council WA: $99,994
Supported: In the name of the Cumpston Family &  Janifer Joy Mason

 

Project title: Mapping and tackling chemotherapy resistance in ovarian cancer
Lead researcher: Prof Alistair Forrest
Institution: The University of Western Australia
Project description: Every year more than 300,000 women are diagnosed with ovarian cancer worldwide. Ovarian cancer claims lives of more than half of affected women within just 5 years after their diagnosis. This is because ovarian cancer is mostly detected at late stages and typically becomes resistant to the current standard treatment, even after initially good response.
Treatment often fails because an ovarian tumour is made up of many different types of cancer cells. Some types of cancer cells may be killed by the standard treatment, while others turn out to be resistant and cause the tumour to grow further.
Here we will study how resistant cancer cells that are present before treatment may explain chemotherapy resistance and recurrence. To study this we will grow slices of patient’s tumours in the lab and treat them with various chemotherapy drugs. The findings of this study may be used in the future to make tumours more sensitive to treatment and the improve outcome of women with ovarian cancer.
Funding from Cancer Council WA: $100,000
Fully supported: In the name of P New, Neil and Melanie Rae & In Memory of Sheila Nugent

 

Project title: Targeting the breast cancer environment for improved immunotherapy
Lead researcher: Prof Ruth Ganss
Institution: The University of Western Australia
Project description: Immunotherapy has generated great excitement, yet offers durable effects in only a minority of patients. For breast cancer patients immunotherapy is not available in Australia because of its limited effectiveness. Part of the problem is that immune cells cannot reach the cancer core in sufficient numbers to stop its growth. Our goal is to improve currently available immunotherapies by helping immune cells to “invade” deep into the cancer and destroy it. We will do this by using drugs which transform cancer blood vessels – which are highly abnormal and chaotic – into a shape similar to normal blood vessels. We will use preclinical breast cancer models and specimens collected from participants of a clinical trial to explore how our selected drugs enhance the response to immunotherapy. We expect that bringing more immune cells into tumours will increase the overall response rate to immunotherapy.
Funding from Cancer Council WA: $100,000
Fully supported: In the name of Jill Tilly

 

Project title: Developing a blood test for predicting the response to immunotherapies in melanoma patients
Lead researcher: A/Prof Elin Gray
Institution: Edith Cowan University
Project description: New treatments that activate the immune system have improved the survival of a proportion of melanoma patients. However, there is an urgent need for tests that can guide who will respond to these treatments. The proposed study will use new technologies to develop blood tests that can provide oncologists with critical information about the tumour to optimise treatment, improve response rates and reduce unnecessary exposure to toxic treatments.
Funding from Cancer Council WA: $100,000
Supported:
In the name of the Mavis Sands Bequest, the Estate of Roy Nibision & the Zampedri Family

 

Project title: A new RNA-based therapy for liver cancer
Lead researcher: Prof Peter Leedman
Institution: The University of Western Australia
Project description: Liver cancer is a major health challenge on a global scale that has a significant economic and social burden on the community. With rapidly increasing numbers of liver cancer cases and critically low survival rates for patients, new therapies are urgently required. The aim of our research is to deliver our new anticancer drug directly to the liver for the targeted treatment of liver cancer. The global effort to produce an effective vaccine against COVID-19 has benefited medical research with major advances in drug development and targeted delivery. We have designed a new drug that kills liver cancer cells in the laboratory, and by using the same innovative COVID-19 vaccine technologies, we aim to deliver this drug directly to liver tumours. If successful, we will fast-track the drug for clinical use to treat people with liver cancer. This new breakthrough will improve treatment effectiveness, reduce serious side effects and importantly, extend people’s lives.
Funding from Cancer Council WA: $100,000
Supported: In the name of the Annadora Horne and Thelma Norris Trust Fund

 

Project title: Towards preventing relapse in childhood leukaemia
Lead researcher: Dr Sébastien Malinge
Institution: The University of Western Australia
Project description: Acute leukaemia is the most common type of cancer seen in children (15 to 20 new cases each year in Western Australia). Although treatments and outcomes have improved remarkably, leukaemia remains the second highest cause of death by cancer in children. Furthermore, many children still suffer from treatment toxicity or develop relapse. These clinical features are exacerbated in children with Down syndrome (DS), a community that already have higher risks of leukaemia compared to other children.
This study aims to test a new therapy targeting the leukaemia cells that are resistant to current treatments and are responsible for relapse. We will use animal models uniquely available in our lab to combine this new therapy with the standard treatments used in clinics. Outcomes from this study are intended to provide to clinicians with new tools to better track and destroy these resistant cells, to improve the quality of care and long-term survival of West Australian children with leukaemia.
Funding from Cancer Council WA: $97,488
Fully supported: In the name of the Estate of Shirley Ellis

In 2022, this scheme is supported by Cancer Council WA, Government of Western Australia, Cancer Research Trust, Charlies Foundation for Research, Curtin University, Edith Cowan University, The University of Western Australia and Telethon Kids Institute.

Project title: A clinical trial to reduce the effects of vaginal atrophy in breast cancer survivors
Recipient: Dr Michelle McMullen, Sir Charles Gairdner Hospital

Dr Karen Taylor, WA Cancer and Palliative Care Network

Ms Amy Epstein, Telethon Kids Institute

Description: Breast cancer treatment can cause vaginal atrophy (VA) – thinning, drying and inflammation of the vaginal wall resulting in discomfort, painful sexual intercourse, and distressing urinary symptoms. VA affects 75% of survivors who want more support to manage symptoms. Concern about safety of vaginal oestrogen has led to an unmet need for effective non-hormonal treatment for VA.
The study will compare the effectiveness of vaginal vitamin D/E, and hyaluronic acid gel, in reducing VA symptoms and explore why symptoms may not be well managed in GP practice and oncology clinics. A randomised trial will compare each treatment to a placebo. Participants will complete a symptom questionnaire before and after treatment. Vaginal swabs will measure changes. To understand current management issues, GPs and patients will be interviewed.
This research will expand treatment options to reduce the impact of VA for breast cancer survivors.
Funding from Cancer Council WA: $22,666 ($30,000 total)
Supported: In the name of the RE and FJ Ledger Charitable Trust & the Estate of Roy Nibison

 

Project title:  Insight into how General Practitioners respond to notification that their patient has dense breasts after screening mammogram
Recipient: Dr Jacqueline Frayne, The University of Western Australia

Dr Ramya Ramon, Royal Australian College of General Practitioners

A/Prof Lucy Gilkes, University of Notre Dame

Description: Breast cancer in Australia is common, with early detection vital to improve outcomes. BreastScreen WA is unique in notifying both women and their General Practitioners (GPs), of reduced sensitivity of mammography for those with increased breast density as part of their routine mammography screening. They advise that women assessed as intermediate risk may benefit from regular supplemental breast ultrasound. Despite the importance of breast density as a risk factor there remains a lack of evidence to guide GPs.

By establishing a strong foundation for collaborative primary care research, we aim to provide insight into current practices, to assess the impact on GP visits and actions, and to inform policy in clinical practice recommendations regarding breast density notification.
This study will investigate the perspectives of GPs, via interviews and analysis of management for patients who received notification of increased breast density. Feedback incorporated into a focus group of GPs and key stakeholders will explore these recommendations to improve practice implementation and educational strategies, which will ultimately benefit consumers and clinicians.

Funding from Cancer Council WA: $20,801 ($64,830 total)
Fully supported: In the names of Momentum for Australia Ltd & Mavis Sands Bequest

Early Career Investigator Grants are designed to help talented early career cancer researchers develop the skills and necessary track record to advance their career. These one year awards give many researchers their first step in their career as an independent cancer researcher.

See below for the 2022 grant receipients.

Project title: Vastly improving the detection of breast cancer using a novel digital camera imaging technology
Lead researcher: Dr Qi Fang
Institution: The University of Western Australia
Project description: Breast cancer is the most common cancer in Australian women with ~20,000 new cases each year. The main treatment for early-stage breast cancer is surgery, but up to 1 in 4 surgery cases need second operations because not all cancer has been removed in the first surgery. This creates delays and costs for both the patient and the health system.
To remove the cancer during surgery, surgeons mainly rely on their sense of touch and visual inspection, as cancer often presents as a stiff lump. However, these approaches are inherently subjective, resulting in small residual cancer often being missed during surgery.
In this project we will develop a novel digital camera imaging technique that can help the surgeon accurately and rapidly assess cancer. Our technique has the potential to dramatically reduce the need for a second surgery, and greatly improve the patient experience and outcomes by increasing the proportion of surgeries that can fully excise cancer in a one-stop surgical procedure.
Funding from Cancer Council WA: $34,670
Supported: In the name of  the Estate of Roy Nibison, Deeny O’Shaughnessy, the Cumpston Family & the Zampedri Family

 

Project title: Using a gel to release drugs locally after surgery and prevent cancer recurrence
Lead researcher: Dr Ben Wylie
Institution: The University of Western Australia
Project description: Treatment for solid tumours, such as sarcoma, involves surgery followed by chemo- or radiotherapy. However, many cancers do not respond, and patients often suffer from recurrence of their cancer. Immunotherapy involves activating the body’s immune system against the cancer and is a promising alternative. We are developing a gel-based drug delivery platform that takes advantage of the ‘window of opportunity’ created during surgery by placing the immunotherapy nearby to any remaining cancer cells. This research project aims to incorporate several drug candidates, known for their immune-activating properties, into a slow-release gel that is placed into the surgical site in order to prevent tumour recurrence. We will test these compounds in an animal model of cancer surgery to determine their anti-cancer properties and investigate how they produce this effect. This project may benefit a broad range of patients undergoing surgical resection of their cancer by reducing relapse post-surgery.
Funding from Cancer Council WA: $34,818
Supported: In the name of the Peter and Iris Cook Grant for Metastases Research & the Estate of Roy Nibison

 

Our Research Fellowships fund outstanding biomedical and health researchers working in the field of cancer so they can undertake research of major importance. They provide salary support for up to five years with the aim of advancing the quality and impact of cancer research in WA and promoting collaboration and partnerships, locally, nationally and internationally.

Project title: How does impaired energy production cause prostate cancer?
Lead researcher: Prof Aleksander Filipovska
Institution: The University of Western Australia
Project description: Prostate cancer is one of the six most common cancers in the world; the incidence rates of this cancer vary due to genetic and environmental factors. Several genes are responsible for the development of prostate cancer and, in particular the gene ELAC2 is one of the most relevant candidate genes. Many mutations have been identified in ELAC2 that predispose to prostate cancer. Unfortunately, it is not known how these mutations cause prostate cancer. We have generated mice containing ELAC2 mutations and develop prostate malignancy that closely mirrors the prostate cancer pathogenesis in humans.
Prostate-specific antigen (PSA) is the only screening biomarker for prostate cancer but because it is not always produced by malignant cells, this biomarker is not entirely reliable since it can generate false results. There is an urgent need for identification and validation of biomarkers and prostate cancer genes. Our study will be the first to address both of those needs.
Funding from Cancer Council WA: $20,000 for 2022 (total $80,000 2019 – 2022)
Fully supported: In the name of the Mavis Sands Bequest

 

Project title: Developing blood tests to guide treatment of melanoma
Lead researcher: A/Prof Elin Gray
Institution: Edith Cowan University
Project description: Melanoma now represents a significantly increased proportion of cases in clinical oncology departments, with melanoma incidence increasing worldwide and in Australia. Once melanoma has spread through the body, the average (or usual or expected) survival is 6 to 9 months, with 5-years survival of less than 40%. The recent implementation of new treatments has improved patient outcome and survival. However, there is an urgent need for a better test to guide the doctors while they are treating their patients.

The proposed studies aim to develop tests that can be done from a blood sample. These tests make use of new technologies to test for evidence of markers derived from the growth (tumour) found in the blood of patients with melanoma. These markers could serve as a guide of what is going on in the cancer.

I aim to demonstrate that in melanoma, these tests can effectively and accurately provide the oncologists with information about the growths, for them to take better informed treatment decisions.

Funding from Cancer Council WA: $100,000 for 2022 ($400,000 total, 2019-2022)
Supported: In the name of Henrik’s Hair Hunting, the Estate of Jospeh Kennedy & the Mavis Sands Bequest

 

Project title: To improve support and education provided to people diagnosed with brain cancer or head and neck cancer and their carers.
Lead researcher: A/Prof Georgia Halket
Institution: Curtin University
Project description: Being diagnosed with brain or head and neck cancer is distressing as it is often life threatening has a large impact on people physically and/or mentally. Hence, it is essential that education and support programs are developed and tested to reduce distress and unmet needs for people diagnosed with these cancers and their carers.
Two programs have been developed:
1. RT Prepare program: This program focuses on preparing people for radiotherapy. Little research has been conducted in this area. This team’s work in preparing people diagnosed with breast cancer for radiotherapy is recognised internationally; however, this program needs to be refined for people with other cancers. Receiving radiotherapy for brain cancer or head and neck cancer may cause distress due to the head mask they must wear to stop them moving and side effects they might experience. People receiving radiotherapy for head and neck cancer are at risk of severe skin reactions, dry mouth, oral discomfort, mouth ulcers, infections, difficulty chewing and swallowing, impaired taste and extreme weight loss. People receiving radiotherapy for brain cancer may fear side effects such as headaches, hair loss, nausea, extreme tiredness, hearing loss, skin changes, speech difficulties and seizures. Education and support provided by the radiotherapy team before treatment is likely to reduce their anxiety and help them manage side effects.
Research methods for this program will include interviews, development and testing of the education packages and a large scale clinical trial. Main outcomes will include anxiety and distress, concerns and knowledge about radiotherapy and how prepared they feel for treatment.2. Carer’s Education and Support Program: This program focuses on improving carer’s confidence to look after their loved one after a cancer diagnosis and reducing their level of distress. This research focuses on carers of patients diagnosed with brain cancer or head and neck cancer because these groups would benefit most from extra support. If carers are unable to support their loved one, it is likely that the person with cancer may need additional emergency room visits or hospital admissions. During the program a nurse conducts a telephone assessment, visits the carer at home, provides an individualised resource manual and regular telephone follow-up for 12 months. This program is currently being tested in a randomised controlled trial with carers of people with brain cancer. It needs to be adapted and tested for carers of people with head and neck cancer.
Research into these two programs is essential to improve the education and support provided to individuals and their carers following a diagnosis with either brain cancer or head and neck cancer. The team will also determine the cost of providing these programs and the impact they have on overall healthcare costs.
Funding from Cancer Council WA: $57,500 for 2022 ($460,000 total, for 2017-2023)
Supported: In the name of Jill Lally & the Mavis Sands Bequest

 

 

Project title: Testing the ability of new medicines to improve radiation therapy and increase survival rates for the childhood brain cancer medulloblastoma
Lead researcher: Dr Raelene Endersby
Institution: The University of Western Australia
Project description: Brain cancers differ from other types of cancers. Radiation is necessary for treatment but causes significant additional problems – especially for children who have to live the rest of their lives with the consequences of radiation – like reduced brain function. Most lab-based research on childhood cancers still use adult-cancer based techniques. My team have developed more accurate, childhood cancer models. Our early data shows that two existing cancer drugs might work with lower doses of radiation to decrease side-effects. By combining these existing medicines with low-dose radiation therapy, I can determine if 1) this more effectively kills brain cancer than radiation alone (which is the standard treatment today) AND 2) if this reduces the side effects of radiation, since the dose is lower. If successful I will move this finding into clinical trials quickly, as this will be the first time a new treatment for brain cancer has been identified in more than 30 years.
Funding from Cancer Council WA: 120,000 in 2022 ($480,000 total, 2022-2025)
Fully supported: In the name of the Estate of Ida Gordon

 

Project title: To identify the treatment-resistant cancer cells responsible for relapse in childhood leukaemia and to test new therapies to destroy the treatment resistant cells which can then be translated into the clinic.
Lead researcher: Dr Sébastien Malinge
Institution: Telethon Kids Institute
Project description: Acute leukaemia is the most common type of cancer seen in children (>200 cases per year in Australia). Although treatments and outcomes have improved remarkably, leukaemia remains the second highest cause of death by cancer in children. Furthermore, many children still suffer from treatment toxicity or develop relapse. These clinical features are exacerbated in children with Down Syndrome (DS).
This study aims to identify the treatment-resistant cells that are responsible for relapse, and discover new methods to destroy them. My team will use animal models to reproduce the standard therapy used in clinics and add two promising drugs to destroy these cells. We will also look for agents that improve the efficacy of these two drugs, and extend to non-DS children with leukaemia that have a similar molecular makeup to DS children. Outcomes from this study are to develop new treatments for clinicians to improve the quality of care and long-term survival of West Australian children with leukaemia.
Funding from Cancer Council WA: 120,000 in 2022 ($480,000 total, 2020-2023)
Fully supported: In the name of the Estate of Shirley Ellis

 

Project title: Predicting liver cancer before its appearance to improve detection of individuals at high risk
Recipient: Dr Rodrigo Carlessi
Description: Liver cancer causes about 10% of all cancer-related deaths globally; and in Australia, it is the fastest increasing cause of cancer death. A screening program for early detection of liver cancer does not exist in Australia. Due to lack of so-called ‘biomarkers’ that can be used to identify people at high-risk, patients are generally diagnosed with the disease at advanced stages, where treatment options are extremely limited.

After developing a new analytical platform that involves acquisition of large amounts of biological information from thousands of liver cells with unprecedented level of detail, the aim is to identify molecular signatures that can predict liver cancer before it develops.
It is important to predict cancer as early as possible as liver health can be restored before the damage becomes permanent and catastrophic. Early detection will improve survival and quality of life, as seen with other cancer types for which screening programs are in place.

Funding from Cancer Council WA: $75,000 in 2022 ($225,000 total for 2021 – 2023)
Supported: In the name of the Cumpston Family & Friends of Cancer Council WA

 

Project title: Developing new therapies for cancer and identifying biological markers that predict successful cancer therapy
Recipient: Dr Alison McDonnell
Description: There is an urgent need to improve outcomes for patients with advanced solid cancers, including mesothelioma and melanoma.
Immunotherpay has revolutionised the treatment of cancer by unleashing the immune system to attack tumours. However, not all patients benefit from treatment and there are side effects. This research aims to identify which patients will benefit most from these treatments, and develop new drugs for those patients who do not respond to current therapies.T cells are specialised cells of the immune system that recognise and kill cancer cells. The team will examine how T cells become activated to kill cancer cells, which activation mechanisms correlate with improved survival, and explore new ways to ‘arm’ T cells for improved cancer killing ability. This will allow to better predict which patients will benefit most from treatment and identify new ways of boosting the cancer killing ability of T cells for more effectve treatment of mesothelioma, melanoma and solid cancers.
Funding from Cancer Council WA: $75,000 in 2022 (total $212,564 for 2020 – 2022)
Supported: In the name of Friends of Cancer Council WA, the Cumpston Family & the Estate of Rosemary Grant Zaks

 

Project title: Using a gel to release drugs locally after surgery and prevent cancer returning
Recipient: Dr Ben Wylie
Description: Treatment for sarcoma (cancers of the bone or soft tissues) involves surgery followed by chemo- or radiotherapy. However, many cancers do not respond, and patients suffer from local recurrence. One promising alternative is immunotherapy, drugs which activate the body’s immune system to attack cancer. However, not all patients benefit from immunotherapy and there can be side effects.

My research aims to improve treatment options for patients undergoing surgical removal of their sarcoma. We have developed a gel-based immunotherapy that can be placed at the site during cancer surgery, to activate the immune system locally and destroy cancer cells. I will test several immune-activating drugs, delivered locally within the gel, in experimental cancer models. I will determine their anti-cancer properties and investigate how they produce their effect. This project will benefit a broad range of patients undergoing surgical removal of their cancer by reducing relapse post-surgery.

Funding from Cancer Council WA: $75,000 in 2022 ($225,000 total for 2022 – 2024)
Supported: In the name of the Estate of Veronica Adams & Laura Shannon

PhD Top Up Scholarships are awarded to applicants who have an outstanding academic record and the potential to pursue full-time PhD studies in cancer-related research.

Project title: Making the unseen, seen: Turning on immune genes in breast cancer to improve treatment success
Lead researcher: Mr Eric Alves
Institution: The University of Western Australia
Project description: Breast cancer is the most common cancer in Australia, with approximately 20,000 diagnoses and 3,000 deaths in 2020 alone. Most breast cancer patients are diagnosed early enough to be successfully treated with surgery, radiotherapy, hormone therapy and/or chemotherapy. However, 20-30% of patients initially diagnosed with early-stage breast cancer will eventually develop a metastatic disease (when the cancer spreads to other parts of the body). In these cases, chemotherapy is the only treatment option, as these drug types can travel through the body and kill the cancer cells that have spread beyond the original location.
Due to the high rates of relapse and drug resistance seen in chemotherapy, targeted cancer immunotherapies have been developed as alternative treatment options. These therapies boost a patient’s immune system, to help the immune cells find and kill cancer cells. However, though these treatments have worked well in some hard-to-treat cancers (e.g. melanoma), their use in breast cancer has not been as successful. One major reason for this is that breast cancer itself is able to “turn-off” important genes which help the immune system to “see” the cancer. In doing so, the cancer cells can stay hidden and survive.
This project aims to use state-of-the-art gene editing technology to design and test a new target treatment that can reverse this process and “turn-on” the important genes that breast cancer has previously “turned-off”. If successful, the treatment designed as part of this project will help to make breast cancers more visible to the immune system. Therefore, the patient’s immune system will better be able to “see” the cancer and work in combination with other currently available therapies to improve their rates of success. Furthermore, given other cancer types also “turn-off” the same genes, this treatment is likely to benefit other cancers as well (e.g. pancreatic cancer).
Funding from Cancer Council WA: $12,000 for 2022 (Up to $30,000 in total for 2021-2023)
Fully supported: In the name of the Estate of Victor Lypka

 

Project title: Harnessing the genetic signature of tumours that are eliminated by the immune system to improve current therapies
Lead researcher: Ms Hannah Newnes
Institution: The University of Western Australia
Project description: Immunotherapies work by boosting the immune system to clear tumours. While there have been impressive results, unfortunately a number of patients fail to respond. This project aims to understand the immune response driving elimination versus cancer escape, which is classically a binary response. Patients either have a ‘hot’ immune active tumour which is responsive to therapies or a ‘cold’ immune inactive tumour which is unresponsive to therapy. Our early data suggests for successful treatment patients require a balance of both ‘hot’ and ‘cold’ signals to drive a finely tuned ‘warm’ environment. An ‘overheated’ response drives a short but ultimately ineffectual immune response, which may explain why some patients with a ‘hot’ tumour fail to respond to therapy. Using current technology, we can investigate the mechanisms driving ‘warm’ responses to recapitulate them in the laboratory. Using this knowledge, we can stratify patients and deliver personalized therapies to switch them from ‘overheated’ or ‘cold’ tumours to ‘warm’ tumours to improve their response to current therapies.
Funding from Cancer Council WA: $6,000 for 2022 (Up to $18,000 in total for 2021-2022)
Fully supported: In the name of the Lions Cancer Institute Karen and Joshua Chinnery PhD Top Up Scholarship

 

Project title: Do mesothelioma patients have the right keys to unlock a successful anti-tumour immune response?
Lead researcher: Miss Nicola Principe
Institution: The University of Western Australia
Project description: Mesothelioma is an incurable cancer caused by asbestos exposure. Australia has one of the highest rates of deaths from mesothelioma, with Western Australia having the highest incidence in Australia due to the mining of asbestos in Wittenoom. Chemotherapy is only palliative, with a short survival of 12 months after diagnosis.
Immunotherapy is an exciting treatment for mesothelioma, working to boost a patient’s immune cells (in particular T cells) to clear tumours. Clinical trials combining chemotherapy and immunotherapy display complete cures in some cancer patients, whilst other patients gain no benefit. This may be due to each patient having different T cell receptors or keys that need to unlock the immune system to produce a successful anti-tumour immune response.
With the current technology to study millions of keys at the same time, this project will map distinct combinations of keys associated with a successful anti-tumour immune response, to see if we can predict chemo-immunotherapy outcomes.
Funding from Cancer Council WA: $6,000 for 2022 (Up to $30,000 in total for 2020-2022)
Supported: In the name of Marie-Claude Beugge-Meunier & the Zampedri Family

 

Project title: Supercharging natural killer immune cells to eliminate leukaemia
Lead researcher: Ms Samantha Barnes
Institution: The University of Western Australia
Project description: While survival rates have vastly improved for acute lymphoblastic leukaemia, some patients still have poor outcomes with a less than 50% chance of survival. Therapies which harness the patient’s own immune system to fight cancer have shown success for some, however many patients are unable to have their own cells harvested. This means there is an urgent need for an alternative approach.

Our solution is to use the cancer killing immune cell, the natural killer (NK) cell, which can be collected from healthy donors, prepared long before required and given to multiple patients. Importantly, we have observed that some NK cells are better at killing leukaemia than others. We will use cutting-edge genetic technologies to understand why these cells perform better, and we will use this information to further enhance and refine the cancer killing abilities of these cells.

Our goal is to create a readily available NK cell therapy to ensure all patients can receive this life-saving treatment.

Funding from Cancer Council WA: $12,000 for 2022 (Up to $30000 in total for 2022-2024)
Fully supported: In the name of the Lions Cancer Institute Karen and Joshua Chinnery PhD Top Up Scholarship

 

Project title: Using artificial intelligence to improve the accuracy of radiotherapy treatments
Lead researcher: Mr Branimir Rusanov
Institution: The University of Western Australia
Project description: Radiotherapy works by killing cancerous cells using high energy X-rays. To ensure the absolute safety of the procedure, radiation oncologists create a radiotherapy “plan” which
describes how much radiation dose should be delivered to the tumour, and the dose limits to surrounding healthy organs. This plan is made at the start of treatment, however,
typical treatment can last up to 8 weeks. During this time, the patient can lose weight, their organs can randomly move around and change shape, and the tumour can increase or
decrease in size. Therefore, the initial plan may no longer be valid a few weeks into treatment meaning that healthy organs can get damaged, or the tumour may not received
the prescribed dose.To address this issue, adaptive radiotherapy has been proposed, which uses a conebeam CT image of a patient just before treatment to modify the X-ray beams such that
healthy tissues are not damaged whilst the tumour is better targeted. Several hurdles prevent adaptive radiotherapy, such as: bad cone-beam CT image quality, time
consuming organ outlining, and time consuming creation of a new X-ray beam plan. Artificial intelligence has become very powerful, and we hypothesize that these
shortcomings can be overcome using the latest cutting edge AI algorithms to (1) improve cone-beam CT image quality; (2) automatically outline organs; (3) predict the optimal Xray beams.Hence, by modifying the plan just before treatment, patients with head & neck, pelvic or lung cancers can receive vastly more accurate doses to their tumours while ensuring
healthy organs are not damaged. Patients will benefit by simultaneously reducing their chance of cancer recurrence and radiotherapy related side-effects.
Funding from Cancer Council WA: $12,000 for 2022 (Up to $30,000 in total for 2022-2024)
Supported: In the name of Jill Tilly, the Estate of Donald Bakes & the Estate of Roy Nibison

 

Project title: Development of novel therapeutic strategy for Ewing sarcoma
Lead researcher: Mrs Shahama Taifour
Institution: The University of Western Australia
Project description: Ewing sarcoma (EWS) is a rare tumour that occurs in bones and less commonly in soft tissues, where children and adolescents are mostly affected. Unfortunately, the outcomes
for returned or spread tumour is low. Hence, developing a new therapeutic strategy for better management of this tumour is needed. In this disease, a specific piece of
chromosome 11 called the FLI1 gene is moved to chromosome 22 to be next to the EWSR1 gene.This chromosomal change forms a new fused gene (EWSR1-FLI1) responsible for
EWS development.This project will utilize a new approach by employing a specific tool called Epi-CRISPR to switch off the new gene to inhibit the growth of EWS cells. We will also develop a new
carrier for Epi-CRISPR to facilitate its clinical application. To achieve these goals, several lab assays and animal models will be used.This project is expected to improve the life expectancy of EWS patients and to make a paradigm shift in the scope of Epi-CRISPR applications in clinical trials that are not exclusive to EWS but extend to other types of cancer.
Funding from Cancer Council WA: $12,000 for 2022 (Up to $36,000 in total for 2022-2024)
Fully supported: In the name of Jill Tilly

 

We offer these one year scholarships to support the work of promising young honours students to encourage them to consider a career in cancer research.

Project title: Designing a new and more effective therapy for aggressive paediatric brain cancer
Lead researcher: Ms Mia Algar
Institution: The University of Western Australia
Project description: The type of cancer we will be researching is called Medulloblastoma which most often affects children. It is a primary brain tumour meaning it starts in the brain cells before spreading to the bone marrow, lungs or other parts of the body. Medulloblastoma can be caused by certain inherited disorders, however why is develops in people without these disorders is unknown. The tumours start in the cerebellum at the back of the brain which controls balance and coordination, therefore symptoms include dysfunction in those actions.

The aims will be to assess a promising new drug called anti-CD47 which blocks a protein on the surface of the cancer cells called CD47. CD47 sends a “don’t eat me” signal to the immune cells that clear away harmful cells, allowing the cancer cells to hide from the immune cells. Blocking this signal with anti-CD47 will allow the immune cells to detect and destroy the cancer cells.

The research will be done by implanting mice with cancer cells and allowing the cancer cells to grow for a period of a few days. Then, the anti-CD47 will be administered plus radiotherapy and after this treatment the tumours will be assessed. The cancer cells will be taken out and the tumour size, immune cell distribution and the amount of dead and alive cells will be analysed.
The benefits of the research will be to hopefully change clinical practices to include this new therapy, which will allow for children to experience less side effects and ongoing effects caused by treatment with radiotherapy alone. Combining anti-CD47 with radiotherapy will hopefully improve survival times and reduce tumour growth in our models. “

Funding from Cancer Council WA: $7,500
Fully supported: In the name of the Mavis Sands Bequest

 

Project title: Understanding leukaemia development in children with down syndrome
Lead researcher: Ms Kathryn Bentley
Institution: The University of Western Australia
Project description: Acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL) is the most common type of cancer seen in children. ALL is characterized by the presence of too many immature lymphocytes in the bone marrow which affect normal blood and immune functions. Children with Down syndrome (DS, trisomy 21) have a greater likelihood of developing ALL (named DS-ALL), and have worse outcomes compared to other children (2-3 fold increase in treatment toxicity and relapse). Thus, new therapies are needed to improve quality of care for these DS children.

In this Honours` project, I will dissect the mechanisms that drive DS-ALL by adding several key regulators of lymphocyte development (CEBPD, NOTCH1) into DS cells to recreate leukaemia in test tubes. This will allow me to identify the key features of cancer growth and unravel new weaknesses.
Altogether, this study will provide new tools that will be used to prevent leukaemia and improve survival in children with or without DS.”

Funding from Cancer Council WA: $7,500
Fully supported: In the name of the Noonan Family

 

Project title: An investigation of a portable low-energy X-ray machine for cancer treatment
Lead researcher: Ms Marsha Chin
Institution: The University of Western Australia
Project description: Cancer treatment using radiation has two main goals:
1) To successfully kill all cancer cells
2) To minimise the radiation dose to surrounding, healthy tissues.One type of machine that can help achieve these two goals is called the Intrabeam. It is mainly used for breast cancer, after the patient has been cut open in surgery and had the bulk of their tumour removed. The Intrabeam probe is inserted into the open wound and delivers X-rays which kill any remaining cancer cells invisible to the eyes. The X-rays have low-energy, which means only the immediate tumour bed will receive the radiation. Underlying healthy tissue will be spared.My project will make measurements on the Intrabeam to find out exactly what kind of radiation dose it delivers, so that we can treat patients more accurately and safely. I will also model the Intrabeam on a computer software which will give me information about the radiation dose as well. This will give physicists and doctors more confidence and assurance in using the Intrabeam, which can help many patients.
I hope also to design and 3D-print customised attachments for the X-ray probe, to better cater to each patient’s needs.A great bonus of the Intrabeam is that these patients don’t have to get external-beam radiotherapy (EBRT) after surgery. EBRT involves the radiation entering the patient’s body from the outside, giving a radiation dose to anything between the patient’s skin and the tumour. “
Funding from Cancer Council WA: $7,500
Fully supported: In the name of the Estate of Victor Lypka

 

Project title: The role of white blood cells after sarcoma surgery
Lead researcher: Ms Matilda Gorce
Institution: Curtin University
Project description: Sarcomas are a group of soft tissue cancers derived from muscle, fat, or connective tissue. Despite traditional treatment methods like surgery and chemotherapy, this type of cancer frequently grows back and more aggressively at the site of removal which is often leads to poor outcomes for patients.

The aim of this research is to identify the role of a specific immune cell type, neutrophils at the chamosite post-surgery and whether these have a positive or negative effect on the anti-tumour immune response.

Using laboratory models of soft tissue sarcoma, we will analyse neutrophils that come into the cancer after surgery. Analysis of neutrophils will be done via laboratory tests which will tell us how these cells are behaving when they meet cancer. With this information, we can find new ways to enhance their cancer killing capacity.

Our goal is to develop a treatment that can be used at the post-surgical site to remove sarcoma and rid any cancer cells that may remain. This would reduce relapse rate and ultimately reduce the mortality rate of sarcoma patients with the possibility of eliminating the use of chemotherapy altogether.”

Funding from Cancer Council WA: $7,500
Fully supported: In the name of the Mavis Sands Bequest

 

Project title: Improving testing and survival for children with leukaemia
Lead researcher: Ms Isabelle Gray
Institution: The University of Western Australia
Project description: Leukaemia is a type of blood cancer. It affects cells responsible for blood cell production within the bone marrow. Acute lymphoblastic leukaemia (ALL) is the most common cancer in children. In some patients, a certain change within the DNA of the cancer cells called ‘high hyperdiploidy’ – which refers to the gaining of copies of multiple chromosomes, resulting in a total of more than 46 – can occur. Having more than the normal 2 copies of chromosome 21 is the most common genetic change within childhood leukaemias.

This is important to detect as it can help determine the likely outcome after treatment.
Despite vast improvements in treatment, 20% of children with ALL are never cured. Some who are treated and said to be in remission can still have as many as 1 billion cancer cells still within their body. The current detection methods for these persistent leukaemia cells are not very accurate.

The aim of this research is to determine whether a new type of test, invented in WA, can detect extra copies of chromosome 21. It will involve using different fluorescent dyes to identify the cells chromosome 21. These samples will then be run through the instrument (a flow cytometer), where they will be shone with lasers to see if the cells are marked with the fluorescent tags, as well as determining how many 21 chromosomes each cell has. We believe that this will increase the chance of detecting the leukaemia cells that have escaped treatment. This project will help to improve current leukaemia testing and detection methods, benefiting both patients and doctors and leading to better outcomes.

Funding from Cancer Council WA: $7,500
Fully supported: In the name of Friends of Cancer Council WA

 

Project title: Discovering new therapeutic targets in pediatric brain cancer
Lead researcher: Ms Lauren Ursich
Institution: The University of Western Australia
Project description: Diffuse intrinsic pontine glioma (DIPG) is the most lethal form of brain cancer in children. DIPG is incurable, and most children survive less than one year. No new successful treatments have been developed in 30 years and survival rates have not improved, primarily because of a lack of effective drug treatments. A key reason for this is cell plasticity, a trait of brain cells that allow them to change their function in response to their environment. Tumour cells use plasticity to evade anti-cancer drugs.

This research aims to investigate tumour cell plasticity by focusing on a group of genes called anoctamins, which are believed to control cancer cell behaviour. To do this, we will trial a new treatment that blocks anoctamins, which will improve the effectiveness of current anti-cancer treatments that have otherwise failed.

The benefit will be to establish an effective treatment option using a combination approach to increase survival outcomes for brain cancer patients drastically.

Funding from Cancer Council WA: $7,500
Fully supported: In the name of the Mavis Sands Bequest

 

 

Cancer Council WA Student Vacation Research Scholarships offer talented university students a taste of what cancer research can offer. They offer students a small stipend to conduct a specific research project over a period of four to 10 weeks.

Project title: Understanding acute lymphoblastic leukaemia development in Down Syndrome children to improve their outcomes
Lead researcher: Miss Kathryn Bentley
Institution: Murdoch University
Project description: Acute lymphoblastic leukaemia (ALL) is a type of cancer where the bone marrow produces too many immature lymphocytes; it is the most common type of cancer in children. Children with Down Syndrome (DS) have a greater likelihood of developing ALL, tending to have a more severe disease.
In addition to trisomy 21 (i.e., three copies of chromosome 21), DS-ALL cells commonly carry changes that are linked to a poor outcome. Such changes include mutations in CEBPD and KRAS that enhance cell replication. Alone, these changes lead to cancer development, but it is not well understood if they have a similar effect in combination with trisomy 21.
Therefore, the project will study their cooperation with trisomy 21. This will be conducted by comparing mouse cells, with and without trisomy 21, on their ability to form visible group of cells (colonies).
The results will allow us to develop a better understanding on this relationship. Thereby, establishing a better predictive model of disease.
Funding from Cancer Council WA: $3,000
Supported: In the name of Leah Jane Cohen & the Zampedri Family

 

Project title: Personalised medicine for sarcoma patients: developing a rapid method for patient-specific drug testing
Lead researcher: Miss Isobel Jones
Institution: Murdoch University
Project description: Bone and soft tissue sarcomas are a rare (1% of all cancers) and large group (over 100 sub-types) of tumours that are disproportionally more common in children, adolescents, and young adults. Their 5-year survival rate of ~70% hasn’t improved significantly over the past decades compared to the improvements observed for the more common types of cancers. This is in part due to their rarity making it very difficult to conduct large clinical trials of novel and targeted drug treatments for each sarcoma subtype.
We have developed a genetic screening program for sarcoma patients with advanced malignant disease that has identified genes that would indicate specific treatment options for some patients if their cancer was of a more common type. By using the recent advances in gene editing technologies, we aim to develop a rapid lab-based screening method of the effectiveness of these novel, targeted therapies identified in the genetic screening program to provide evidence of potential drug efficacy for these sarcoma patients.
Funding from Cancer Council WA: $3,000
Fully supported: In the name of the Abbie Basson Sarcoma Foundation

 

Project title: A novel method for preventing recurrence of retroperitoneal sarcoma
Lead researcher: Mrs Hyerin Park
Institution: The University of Western Australia
Project description: Retroperitoneal sarcomas are a rare type of cancer which are often picked up late. The mainstay of curative treatment is surgery, but recurrence rates after surgery are high, with 50% of patients developing a recurrence within 5 years. These recurrences may be due to microscopic areas of cancer that are not removed because they are too small to detect. A novel method for treating these microscopic areas of cancer with minimal impact on surrounding organs and structures is argon plasma coagulation (APC). APC has previously been used for treating other cancers, namely oesophageal cancer, but is yet to be used for retroperitoneal sarcomas. The efficacy of APC for preventing recurrence of retroperitoneal sarcomas will be examined by comparing recurrence rates amongst patients treated with surgery plus APC versus those treated with surgery alone. This will help inform best practice for curative treatment of patients with retroperitoneal sarcomas.
Funding from Cancer Council WA: $3,000
Fully supported: In the name of the Abbie Basson Sarcoma Foundation

 

Project title: Assessing the cancerous nature of mouse liver progenitor cells (LPCs) as they are grown in culture
Lead researcher: Mr Alexander Rossi
Institution: University of Notre Dame
Project description: Liver progenitor cells (LPCs) regenerate the liver during chronic damage but are highly prone to mutations. Liver cancer is rare but, the age-standardised incidence rate increased 378% whilst the mortality rate increased threefold from 1982 to 2015.
This project will quantify how likely LPCs are to become cancerous as they go through certain stages of cell culture. The intent is to understand whether LPCs become more likely to form tumours over time or abruptly become cancerous after a specific stage.
My role is to passage adult mouse LPCs (a colony-forming technique that assesses tumorigenicity). It is performed by suspending the cells in agar and counting the proportion that develop into large colonies (likely tumours).
Linking LPCs to cancer formation could contribute to developing new ways of detecting cancer in early stages without the need for biopsies which can, in some instances, be risky and often inaccurate.
Funding from Cancer Council WA: $3,000
Fully supported:
In the name of the Mavis Sands Bequest

 

Project title: Investigating mechanisms for iron uptake in cancerous vs non-cancerous liver cells
Lead researcher: Miss Andrea Vidler
Institution: The University of Western Australia
Project description: Cancer cells divide rapidly and therefore require a lot of iron (as it is required to make the building blocks of DNA). Cancer cells thus have a more efficient way of taking up iron than non-cancerous cells. One of the ways cells take up iron is through a receptor known as the transferrin receptor. Thus the activity of this receptor is greater in cancerous cells as shown in many cancer cell types, however it hasn’t been shown in liver cancer cells.
This project aims to confirm that this increased transferrin receptor activity, i.e. more efficient iron uptake mechanism, applies to liver cancer cells. To do this, fluorescent transferrin will be added to both cancerous and non-cancerous cells. It will bind to its receptor and the level of fluorescence will thus indicate the level of iron uptake by the cell. It is expected this will confirm that increased iron uptake through the transferrin receptor occurs in liver cancer cells, opening up opportunities for anticancer drugs to be developed to target this receptor.
Funding from Cancer Council WA: $3,000
Fully supported: In the name of Deeny O’Shaughnessy

 

Project title: Aiding Cancer Prevention: Building the Evidence Base to Restrict Unhealthy Food Advertising Near Schools
Lead researcher: Miss Gabriella Wells
Institution: Edith Cowan University
Project description: With obesity linked to 13 cancers and diet related to 30% of all cancers, having a healthy diet and body weight is one of the most cost-effective approaches to cancer prevention. This research project will help build the evidence base underpinning Cancer Council WA’s policy campaign to ban unhealthy advertising on government-owned assets. It builds on and expands a Cancer Council WA funded project quantifying the amount of outdoor food advertising present near Perth schools in 2020/21 by using a validated tool to score the observed 1700 advertisements according to their appeal to teenagers. The findings will be written up as a scientific manuscript to be submitted to a high impact, peer-reviewed journal and can be used by the Cancer Council WA’s Obesity Prevention Team in their advocacy work. Reducing children’s exposure to unhealthy food advertisements can help improve dietary intake and reduce obesity, which in turn can help reduce the incidence and prevalence of diet- and obesity-related cancers.
Funding from Cancer Council WA: $3,000
Fully supported: In the name of the Noonan Family

 

The Cancer Research Trust Enabling Grants were established in 2009 to promote and support collaborative cancer research in WA and make a globally-significant contribution to the diagnosis, prevention and treatment of cancer.

Award: 2022 Cancer Research Trust Enabling Grant
Recipient: Prof Alistair Forrest
Description: Tumours contain many different normal cell types that interact with the cancer cells. Although some cell types are associated with good or poor prognosis, relatively little is known about all the cell types that exist in a tumour. The team will use new ‘single cell technologies’ that look at the cells DNA to study hundreds of tumour samples from many different cancer types donated by patients across Perth. This will provide new insights into what cell types are present in each tumour and determine the genes switched on and off in thousands of cells from each patient’s tumour.

This information will be used to study four priority areas: What cell types are present in each tumour? ; Which drugs might kill these cancer cells, what fraction of cancer cells are likely to be resistant and why are some cancers resistant?; What changes between the cancer cells in a primary site when they move to a metastatic site?; and can new biomarkers be identified for early cancer detection and can cancer cells be detected in the blood?

Funding from Cancer Council WA: $25,000 in 2022 (total $250,000 for 2018-2022)
Supported: In the name of the Mavis Sands Bequest

 

Award: 2022 Cancer Research Trust Enabling Grant
Recipient: Prof Christobel Saunders AO
Description: The Chair provides academic leadership in clinical cancer research in WA and aims to increase the participation of local cancer patients in clinical trials of new cancer treatments.The purpose of funding the Cancer Foundation Chair in Clinical Cancer Research is to improve the clinical care available to people diagnosed with cancer in Western Australia. There is compelling evidence that outcomes for patients are improved when they participate in clinical trials. A key vehicle therefore to improve outcomes in Western Australia is to actively promote clinical trials in the medical and general community. The means by which this may be achieved by the Chair are broken down into the following categories:
• Research
• Clinical trials
• Leadership
• Teaching
• Advice
• Representation
• Promotion
Funding from Cancer Council WA: $25,000 in 2022 (total $250,000 for 2018-2022)
Supported: In the name of the Estate of Roy Nibison & the Jospeh and Betty Pitschel Pain Relief Fund

The objective of the Gastrointestinal Stromal Tumour Initiative is to direct funds to advance the diagnosis and treatment of gastrointestinal stromal cancer.

Project title: Harnessing the immune system to fight Gastro Intestinal Stromal Tumours
Lead researcher: Prof Ruth Ganss
Institution: The University of Western Australia
Project description: Gastrointestinal stromal tumours (GIST) arise from digestive organs, for instance the stomach and intestine. If the cancer is discovered early, surgical removal may lead to a cure, but some cancers re-grow even after surgery. Advanced GIST have already spread to distant organs and in most cases are treated with a drug called Imatinib or Gleevec. Most advanced GIST patients respond well to this drug which slows cancer growth. However, 90% of patients eventually become non-responsive to the drug due to drug resistance, enabling the cancer to progress and spread.

New treatments are urgently needed to overcome drug resistance. One of the most exciting clinical development in recent years is the advent of immunotherapy. Immunotherapy harnesses the body’s own immune system to fight cancer. This treatment is already used for some advanced cancers such as melanoma, often with dramatic results. However, so far GIST has not been considered for immunotherapy. New research published in 2020 indicates that some GIST patients (approximately 50%) spontaneously display lymph node like structures which promote immune cell trafficking and indicate better overall survival.

This research proposal will build on these findings using our expertise in the field and incorporate a unique animal model to test how these lymph nodes can be induced to optimize immunotherapy. For this aim human cancers will be grown in a mouse which harbours a human immune system; this is currently the best model system for studying immunotherapy effects.

We will also collect clinical GIST cancer specimen and examine the numbers and characteristics of spontaneous lymph nodes by developing a new detection system. We expect that this will be useful to identify those GIST patients who will benefit from immunotherapy.

Overall, the goal of the project is to provide GIST cancer patients with new immunebased
treatment options by combining already available drugs, to overcome resistance and prolong survival.

 

Funding from Cancer Council WA: $154,668 in 2022 (total $978,950 for 2018-2024)
Fully supported: In the name of the initiative for cancer research into the diagnosis and treatment of Gastro Intestinal Stromal Cancer through the provision of the late Sandra O’Keefe by including a gift in her Will to make this research possible.

The objective of the Prostate Cancer Initiative is to direct funds to advance the diagnosis and treatment of prostate cancer.

Project title: Can a telehealth delivered exercise program with nutritional advice be as effective as a supervised clinic-based exercise and nutrition program for weight loss and health enhancement in overweight and obese men with prostate cancer?
Lead researcher: Prof Daniel Galvão
Institution: Edith Cowan University
Project team: Prof Rob Newton , Edith Cowan University
Prof Dennis Taaffe, Edith Cowan University
Prof Dickon Hayne, Fiona Stanley Hospital
Prof Suzanna Chambers, University of Technology Sydney
Dr Colin Tang, Sir Charles Gairdner Hospital
Prof Amanda Devine, Edith Cowan University
Prof Nigel Spry, Edith Cowan University
Prof David Joseph, 5D Clinics
Mr Pedro Lopez Da Cruz, Edith Cowan University
Project description: Prostate cancer is the most commonly diagnosed cancer in men in Australia and the second most common cause of cancer-related death. Men who are overweight/obese are at increased risk for treatment-related side-effects and increased risk of the cancer to spread. A common treatment undertaken by men with prostate cancer is hormone therapy, however, it leads to an increase in weight due to gains in fat mass while muscle mass is lost. Therefore, treatments to improve weight loss are important, especially for those who have been exposed to hormone therapy. To date, strategies to combat this weight gain have been ineffective.

The team recently showed a clinic-based targeted and supervised exercise and nutrition program to be effective in reducing fat mass by ~3kg in these men. The problem is that not all men would have access to such a program, such as those in regional, rural and remote settings, or have the financial ability to pay. Telehealth has emerged as a viable way to deliver healthcare. The aim of the project is to determine if the program delivered via telehealth is as effective as the supervised clinic-based program for fat weight loss, reducing cardiovascular disease risk, and enhancing physical and mental health in overweight/obese men with prostate cancer.

The study will recruit 104 overweight/obese men with prostate cancer and current or past usage of hormones and randomise them to a telehealth delivered program or the supervised clinic-based program for six months and then follow them for an additional six months. The clinic-based exercise program, which comprises of resistance and aerobic training, with nutritional advice will be the same as that in the pilot study and will be adapted to be delivered by telehealth using the latest technologies such as video chat with remote monitoring.

If the telehealth delivered program is effective, then it can be rolled-out at a low cost to patients, regardless of their financial position or where they live.

Funding from Cancer Council WA: $164,568 in 2022 ($472,739 total for 2021-2023)
Fully supported: In the name of the initiative for cancer research into the diagnosis and treatment of prostate cancer through the provision of the late Alan Tuthill by including a gift in his Will to make this research possible.

 

A combination of long and short-term research projects of specific strategic importance.

Award: Chair of Clinical Cancer Research
Recipient: Prof  Michael Millward
Description: The Chair provides academic leadership in clinical cancer research in WA and aims to increase the participation of local cancer patients in clinical trials of new cancer treatments.The purpose of funding the Cancer Foundation Chair in Clinical Cancer Research is to improve the clinical care available to people diagnosed with cancer in Western Australia. There is compelling evidence that outcomes for patients are improved when they participate in clinical trials. A key vehicle therefore to improve outcomes in Western Australia is to actively promote clinical trials in the medical and general community. The means by which this may be achieved by the Chair are broken down into the following categories:
• Research
• Clinical trials
• Leadership
• Teaching
• Advice
• Representation
• Promotion
Funding from Cancer Council WA: $160,000
Fully supported: In the name of the Annadora Horne and Thelma Norris Trust Fund

 

Project title: Cancer Council WA Cancer Prevention Research Unit
Chair: Dr Moira O’Connor
Institution: Curtin University
Research description: The Chair of Clinical Cancer Research provides academic leadership in clinical cancer research in WA and aims to increase the participation of local cancer patients in clinical trials of new cancer treatments.

Headed by Dr Moira O’Connor, the purpose of the Cancer Council WA Cancer Prevention Research Unit (WACPRU) is to increase our understanding of individual and societal factors that increase the risk of cancer in the community, and, through this understanding, develop more effective policies and programs to reduce cancer risk in the community.

Funding from Cancer Council WA:  $160,000
Supported: In the name of the Edward and Patricia Usher Research Fund & the Mavis Sands Bequest